Interview Instrument HYPIA
Name: Lázaro Ochoa Yzquierdo
Nationality or Ethnicity: Cuban
Where do you live? Havana, Cuba
Spanish (native), English, Portuguese, Esperanto (fluent), French, Galician, Bahasa (conversational), Cuban sign language, Italian (basic), German (learning)-
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
Well, my first reference was my own father. When he was young, he was able to speak a few languages, so I could say that he was the first multilingual person that I met in my live. When my father was living in Brazil I started to feel a great interest to speak this language: I thought that it wouldn’t be hard because was similar to my native Spanish. And after to have an enough level in Portuguese I started to have more interest about Galician language, and searching information and people to practice I started to say my first words, and little by little I was speaking with people from Galicia.
However, just when I started to learn Esperanto and Cuban Sign Language it was when I really wanted to know and learn more about languages and cultures. When I started to meet with friends from different countries and places around the world I felt a great interest on cultures and literature. I wanted to understand how the mind and philosophy of each population works in our world. Since that moment, I just wanted to improve my English level and, step by step, I was meeting more people and learning more about this fascinating world.
Other important references were when I read about the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis; this new perspective gave me a new reason to focus my effort on these goals, and the Catalan professor, Delfin Dalmau; who proposed some kind of “passive polyglotism”. The idea behind this was getting high communicational skills in the most spoken and vernacular languages of the world, and getting a good understanding in other languages, as many as possible. With all these ideas, it was impossible for me not to get involved in this fascinating world. An institution that gave me many reasons to learn languages was the Cuban Esperanto Association, thanks to this community I have met many good friends. The first time I had contact with French and German languages was there. About Indonesian and Malay, I always have been very interested on the Asian cultures and when I saw that these both language were very similar ―we could say the same, but with different standardizations― and with a very rich culture for me, it was an enough reason. I was searching a different language, something Asian, but with a simple phonetic and scripture; Bahasa was the best option.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practicing?
Right now I would like to have more practice with Indonesian and French, almost every day I am watching videos and reading news in these languages but is not the same. At the same time I need to socialize more with my Galician because I have forgotten a few words and expressions. At this moment, I am not having enough time for practice but I am planning to change that.
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
I started a few weeks ago with Italian and German, at this moment I can speak basic Italian, but I need more work on German because it’s really different and its grammar needs more attention. I have a huge interest on Asian languages, especially for Japanese and Chinese. But I have in my list: Hebrew, Swedish, Danish, Russian, Catalan, Yiddish, and maybe, Arabic, Hindi, Tagalog, Quechua or Guarani. I just have to get a good level on Italian and German and after that I’ll start with all these others, step by step.
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
The most common answer for that question would be French or Italian, and yes, they are languages with a sexy phonetic and a romantic tradition backed by great cultures with amazing music and literature. But for me, it is Spanish. Spanish is a language with a simple phonetic structure, at least for me it’s like that, but at the same time the Hispanic culture is one of the most seductive, classic and romantic of the world.
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
Speaking different languages is like having the ability to open different doors to other universes. The experience of switching among different realities at the same time just using social media and languages is really fascinating for me. There are realities that are completely different if we compare countries and societies like Indonesia, Germany, Canada or Congo. And just by having different language skills a simple person can switch among cultures, literature, music and ideologies. When I start to learn a new language, I try honestly to understand the cultural background behind this. I tried to know every aspect about the reality that lives the native speaker of my target language. My learning system goes farther, not only by just learning a language: it’s about to understand human behavior and culture. Thanks all these things I have a great and particular group of friends around the world: my last two jobs were using Esperanto and English, I have known many things and I can say that I am a better person with every new language.
6. Some people say the world is really just going to have a few languages left in a 100 years, do you think this is really true?
Sadly there are languages which aren’t part of an educative system, even being excluded from the cultural distribution, for that reason minorities are losing their traditions and languages. All these minorities without support from the cultural and political authorities just change their native language for the most useful and prestigious one in their societies. That’s a reality which needs more attention, because, with each language in danger the human kind is in danger of losing a way of thinking and a particular cosmovision. According to Ethnologue, there are more than 6000 languages in the world, and a great part of these is in danger because the next generations aren’t learning them. I think the best example of this are the First Nations in the American continent. Portuguese, Spanish and English have been the most prestigious in detriment of thousands of these languages that in many situations doesn’t have more than a few speakers who are losing slowly their culture for a convenient assimilation, in many cases trying to avoid discrimination. I think in the future we will have fewer languages than right now if we don’t take action about that.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
Very often, when people try to learn new languages, they have problems like low confidence on themselves, and the reasons could be many. But I think the best way to fight against this is to think about the real motivation, and understanding that language learning is a social phenomenon. What this means is, that the communication is probably the most developed ability by the human kind. The communicational skill shaped our race and gave us superiority over the environment thanks to cooperation and knowledge transmission. The ability of learning languages is almost our must important resource, and I think that every mentally healthy person is able to learn as much as you want to learn, of course, with enough effort. Today we have, more than any other age in the human history, enough resources and information for a good self-education. Internet is the new “Alexandria Library”. Let’s be lifelong learners.